By Sarah Alderman,
The first inspiration for BYPASSED came to me about 7 years ago, when my twin daughters had just been born. At the time, my grandmother Theresa Chille Puglisi, was still living on S. 8th Ave and would babysit for me a few days a week. I was moved by the many ways my hometown had evolved over the years, both in good and bad, and I wanted to capture this unique moment in the city’s evolution. I wanted to embed myself in it, because of all the places I’ve lived in Chester County, Coatesville is the most real.
I had been a writer for Mary Bigham’s Chester County Cuisine and Nightlife, and I respected Mary for having started her own media company. So I invited her to lunch at Four Dogs, to ask her what she thought it would take to get any of the local publications interested in a documentary photo essay on Coatesville. Mind you, this was a little premature; I was barely a photographer at this point. But Mary told it to me straight: inexperience aside, it would be unlikely that anyone would pay me to make this work, that it was neither flattering enough to be a tourism piece, or negative enough to attract the ‘Ville’s haters.
I shelved the idea for the time being, but continued to work at expanding my photography skill set so when the time was right, I would be ready.
And so it took some time. Many transformational events came to pass that prepared me to dive in. I had the opportunity to work on Aaron Huey’s NatGeo storytelling project on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. I shot the cover of a national magazine, Flaunt. I received some mentoring at the feet of an incredibly generous photojournalist and documentarian. And then my grandmother passed away.
Theresa, “Tess”, was my heart and soul. I still cannot type these words without tearing up. My grandmother was a simple woman. Few things were more important to her than her family, her church (Holy Rosary), Coatesville, and the equal treatment of all its people. In a time when Coatesville was particularly gripped in racial tensions and prejudice, my grandmother made sure I understood that we would never be a part of that. We would love our neighbors all the same. That’s something she learned working in her father’s store on Coates St. (Chille’s Grocery) and continued to instill in each generation of our family. To me, this is her legacy: love.
With my grandmother and her stories gone, I became almost neurotically obsessed with collecting as much info as I could about her life and Coatesville. It was around then that I first encountered ‘Hollow’, an interactive web documentary about McDowell County, WV by Elaine Sheldon. It was the first time I’d ever seen on online documentary and I was immediately jolted out of my seat; this platform would be perfect for telling Coatesville’s story. The more I looked at other web documentaries, the more confident I grew that we would do this.
To me, the blending of professionally produced content and community generated content guarantees that everyone from Coatesville who wants to be heard will have a platform, and that anyone with access to the internet will be able to enjoy and engage with the finished project. In my thought, it wasn’t enough for me to tell the story of Coatesville as I, the director, have experienced it. There is so much diversity and history in Coatesville, and I wanted to reach into every corner of the community to draw those stories out. In its completed form, users will be able to contribute their own written pieces, photos, and film to accompany the documentary.
This project has been under way for a year already, and even still there is a LOT of work to do! The community bridge-building, most of all.
If there’s anything I was unprepared for when I got started, it was how intense the trust building process would be. I come from 4 generations of Coatesville blood on both sides of my family. I come from recognizable Coatesville names. I grew up in the epicenter of the city. And yet I still encountered a sort of vibe like I’m an outsider; like, ‘what do you want with us?’. I’ve been doing this project out of my own passion and pocket for a year, but my intentions are still frequently questioned.
I’d be lying if I said that didn’t hurt. That it didn’t get me down or tire me out. But my love for the community is unyielding. I am resolute in my commitment to this project and I am ready to prove that with my work. This isn’t just a resume line for me, and it sure isn’t a money-driven project. And so I accept it may take time to get people to come around and join in. That’s okay by me; I am allllll in. To me, this has always been a calling.
When I was younger, in my early 20s, I dreamed of opening a performing arts school in Coatesville, right in the city. To me, the arts are healing and freeing and a state-of- the-art school (or something like Fame) would be a draw for Coatesville that the other municipalities don’t have. But I had to be real with myself. Is that a dream, or is that my higher purpose? Could I really stick it out, raise that capital, and commit to running this school for my entire career? At the end of the day, the answer was no, I have almost too much wanderlust in my bones to commit to a date next week, let alone years and years.
BYPASSED, then, is my piece. It is the gift I can offer to the collective efforts and energy already in motion, working to lift Coatesville up. It may not be every moving piece people want you to bring to the table—it may not offer employment opportunities, clean up graffiti, solve the school district’s issues, etc. But it can and will transform people’s minds when it comes to the 19320.
While we released the trailer above to show people our visual skills, we are fundraising for our production budget so we can start shooting the documentary itself. We will share stories of personal redemption, of grassroots initiatives, and a bit about Coatesville’s history. We will highlight the elders and the young, the folks who have never left and those who have, and the faces who are shaping the Coatesville of tomorrow.
We also hope to mine for local talent and feature their creative work. I think Aadil Malik, our title poem’s author and honorary Project Ambassador, is such a perfect example of what you can find when you look hard enough. I had put out a call for lyricists and rappers, someone to give a few writing cues to for our title piece. A friend knew Aadil from Collegium and when I reached out, he was so enthusiastic. I expected something good from him, but I never could have imagined how perfect his poem would be. He took the writing cues and moods I presented and made something so powerful. Aadil is a one-in-a-million level talent, but don’t be surprised if we find a few more like that within 19320.
Through crowdfunding, we’ve built an enormous audience that is now engaged and ready to view our finished product. To know that I can carry these voices from where they are going unheard in their own small pockets, to such a platform, is a gift and a blessing. And I am so grateful to those who have embraced our project by participating or supporting us.
No one who works to become part of this will be passed by. We invite you to join in.
BYPASSED is nearing the end of its IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign. So far they’ve raised over $20,000. Now Sarah and her team only need $5,000 more to produce BYPASSED. If they meet that goal a generous donor has agreed to kick in an additional $5,000 toward web development costs.
You can help support this professional, once-in-a-lifetime documentary by clicking here.